BLUE RODEO at Massey Hall, January 8. Tickets: $34-$42.50. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNN
I'm always amazed by the cultish devotion fans lavish on their favourite groups.Take baby dykes and Ani DiFranco, for example. You can barely hear her between-song banter at live shows (or on live recordings) for all their yowling. Or tween girls and Justin (Timberlake, that is). Or, apparently, a select set of Torontonians and Blue Rodeo.
The slightly older crowd, dressed up in swank theatre-going threads, bristled with the energy you'd expect from teenyboppers at a mid-60s Beatles gig. There were howls, lighters held aloft, professions of undying love (to Rodeo roadies, even!), dancing in the aisles.
You got the feeling that, if not for stately Massey Hall's implied decorum, more than one pair of panties would've been flung in Greg Keelor's direction.
Suave cowboy openers the Sadies harnessed the crowd's excitement as best they could, eliciting polite applause and a few hoots for their slightly surfy spaghetti western anthems. Po-faced, black-suited guitarist-vocalist Dallas Good graciously accepted the props, spouting laconic thank-yous ad infinitum after all 13 songs of their impressively tight set.
Still, it was clear that the local twang-rockers were a mere blip on the Rodeo fans' radar. Eventually, Keelor and Jim Cuddy led their expanded ensemble onstage -- along with regulars Bazil Donovan (on bass), drummer Glenn Milchem and multi-instrumental dynamo Bob Egan (who doesn't that guy back in this city?) -- and the band rocked with a brilliant horn section inspired by mid-20th-century Stax recordings. It was the fabulous tooting -- particularly that of trumpeter Bryden Baird and baritone saxman Chris Gale -- that really made the show.
It's been said that Keelor and Cuddy write the same five tunes over and over. While that might be true, their decision to go Motown on new disc Palace Of Gold is a good one. The horns transform Keelor and Cuddy's harmonies and hooks into something sparkling and fresh. Homeward Bound Angel was a standout, and even older tunes like Till I Am Myself Again shone when beefed up with a good horn arrangement.
The audience sing-alongs on fan faves like Bad Timing and Head Over Heels were almost enough to make you ignore the nasty case of sonic interference fizzling through Keelor's tube amp. In spite of the laid-back axeman's repeated knob-twiddling and appeals to the sound dude, Blue Rodeo's set was tarnished by tinny feedback that sounded like an old transistor radio. How very ironic, considering that the old-school amp was chosen for better sound quality.